Skip to Content
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Log In

New Caltrans Video Claims Widening 5 Freeway Is Good for Air, Congestion

10:53 AM PDT on September 26, 2016

In this new promotional video, Caltrans District 7 inexplicably proclaims that widening a stretch of the 5 freeway in southeast L.A. County will "reduce congestion" and "improve air quality." The video, shown at Metro's board and committee meetings recently, further boasts about "better safety" and how outsized new bridges over the freeway will each "dwarf the original bridge." It goes on to herald Caltrans' $1.9 billion project (funded by Metro's Measure R) as a "21st-century transformation."

What it really resembles are all of those dreadful 20th-century transformations that gave L.A. County its current congestion and foul air, plus plenty of child asthma, noise, disconnected neighborhoods, obesity, and other problems. These are all accompanied by budget-breaking infrastructure maintenance costs passed along to our children's generation.

Keep an eye on your transportation tax dollars going down the I-5 at Caltrans website
Keep an eye on your transportation tax dollars going down the I-5 at Caltrans project promo website
Keep an eye on your transportation tax dollars going down the I-5 at Caltrans website

The flaws inherent in Caltrans' outdated thinking are summarized well by UCLA professor Michael Manville, in what he calls "Transportation Economics 101":

We've known for a very long time that simply adding capacity doesn't reduce traffic congestion. This was first pointed out in very clear language in the the 1960s by an economist named Anthony Downs in what he called the fundamental law of road congestion, which basically said that whenever you add road capacity to the road all you are doing is essentially lowering the price of driving.

The main portion of the price of driving at peak hours is the cost that comes to you in terms of your time. So if you widen the road, it takes less time to drive on it, which means the price goes down, which means more people want to drive. It's fundamentally self-defeating to try [to] get people to consume less of a good by making it cheaper. That's exactly what widening a road does.

Apparently Caltrans' L.A. experts skipped Transportation Economics 101. Perhaps they skipped Induced Travel 101Air Pollution 101, and any lessons learned from expensive widening projects everywhere in the world. Somehow it appears that Caltrans' leadership really believes that its car-centric Level of Service calculations represent reality, which they never have.

At a state policy level, Caltrans is taking steps to move toward a more holistic approach and away from widening every freeway everywhere. In L.A. County, their multi-billion dollar zombie engineering efforts continue to remain focused on more and more and more freeways lanes. Here, they are still using bogus discredited claims to promote these costly destructive mega-projects. Sad.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog Los Angeles

Foothill Transit Celebrates 35 Years

Foothill Transit CEO Doran Barnes credits their successes to a "commitment to community," a "spirit of innovation," and fruitful collaborations with numerous partners

December 9, 2023

Donate Now to Support the Streetsblog L.A. End of the Year Fundraising Drive!

If you’re a regular reader and you’ve already contributed this year, thank you! If you value Streetsblog and you haven’t already supported us, please consider a donation as part of our End of the Year fundraising drive.

December 8, 2023

Caltrans and Metro Using “Auxiliary Lane” Freeway Widening Loophole for Non-Aux Lane Projects

Beyond just using harmful loopholes legally, Metro and Caltrans deceptively bypass environmental regulations in order to keep on widening freeways

December 8, 2023
See all posts